Religious liberty assaulted in Texas? —State bar rejects “Christian” ethics…
(CUSA) – Even in Texas, anti-Christian sentiment wells up in the hearts of petty bureaucrats and must be vigorously rejected.
This is especially true when it comes to lawyers and ethics! —Ed.
(CardinalNewmanSociety) – A State Bar of Texas committee decision that denied credit for a continuing legal education (CLE) program in Christian legal ethics is, at best, “based on a shallow and impoverished understanding of legal ethics” and, at worst, “amount(s) to religious discrimination,” according to Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s general counsel Jimmy Blacklock in a letter to the Texas Bar president.
As The Cardinal Newman Society previously reported, the Texas Bar’s Minimum Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Committee decided last month that a CLE ethics program, “Christian Ethical Perspectives: Faith and Law Today,” co-sponsored by St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, the Catholic Lawyers’ Guild of San Antonio and the Christian Legal Society of San Antonio would be denied future accreditation for being too religious.
St. Mary’s law professor Bill Piatt, one of the main organizers of the CLE program, told the Newman Society at the time that the Committee was “going out of their way to make it impossible for Catholics to put on a continuing legal education program that says anything about faith or morality,” and said the decision violated the First Amendment rights to speak, associate and freely exercise religion.
The program, held at St. Mary’s in October, was given a one-time accreditation, but the MCLE Committee told the organizers in November that all future programs will only receive credit for “portions devoted to secular law and legal ethics.”
Blacklock said the Committee’s position that legal ethics and religious or moral responsibilities “should be — or even can be — completely divorced from each other is entirely without basis,” in a December 22 letter to State Bar of Texas President Allan DuBois obtained by the Newman Society. A copy of the letter was also sent to MCLE Director Nancy Smith and the Justices of the Supreme Court of Texas.
“To be honest, the idea that a lawyer’s professional ethics have nothing to do with morality sounds more like the start of a bad joke than a serious philosophical or legal proposition,” Blacklock wrote. “But if our profession has in fact reached the point where its leaders no longer think lawyers need concern themselves with the morality of their professional conduct, we should consider whether the lawyer jokes have it right.”
In a letter sent to Piatt about the decision in November, Smith wrote, “The definition of legal ethics/professional responsibility allows credit only for those topics dealing with matters pertaining specifically to attorney dues and responsibilities and excludes credit for individual religious or moral responsibilities.”
“Ironically, the MCLE Committee’s position that morality and religion must be ignored when discussing legal ethics proves the vitality of the proposed CLE,” wrote Blacklock.
Blacklock argued that the CLE program met the accreditation standards posted on the Texas Bar website, and said the training provided to Christian attorneys during the course fell well within the guidelines found in the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Responsibility specifically addressing the role of an attorney in providing advice:
Advice couched in narrow legal terms may be of little value to a client … Purely technical legal advice, therefore, can sometimes be inadequate. It is proper for a lawyer to refer to relevant moral and ethical considerations in giving advice.
Although a lawyer is not a moral advisor as such, moral and ethical considerations impinge upon most legal questions and may decisively influence how the law will be applied. (Rule 2.01, comment 2)
“The Committee’s decision … suggests that a lawyer’s sense of morality — religious or otherwise — is irrelevant to the lawyer’s professional ethical responsibilities,” according to Blacklock. “This rigid, narrow understanding of professional ethics cannot be squared with the reality of everyday legal practice, and it cannot be squared with the instructions provided by the [Texas] Supreme Court in the Disciplinary Rules.”
The MCLE Committee should “reconsider its definition of legal ethics and reverse its decision,” Blacklock stated.
Piatt told the Newman Society that the letter from Governor Abbott’s office “is an eloquent defense of our religious liberties.”
“It provides an important discussion of the need for bringing moral and religious concerns into the continuing education of Catholic, Christian, and indeed, all attorneys,” he said. “I don’t see how the Bar could ignore it.”
Piatt previously told the Newman Society that if the decision of the Committee stands, students currently in Catholic law school classrooms will not see any immediate effect, but St. Mary’s and other Catholic legal programs in Texas, and potentially in other states, would be forced to secularize their continuing education courses.
“St. Mary’s Law School sponsored this program, and we sponsor several programs throughout the year, and it doesn’t immediately affect our students while they’re still students, but it will affect our students when they graduate,” he said. “I think if we can’t put on these CLE programs we will continue to be able to educate people who are becoming attorneys, but we are not going to be allowed to continue the education beyond the time they receive their law degree.”
Attorneys in every state are required to obtain a certain number of CLE credits every year, with one to five hours of credit needed specifically in the area of ethics.
Instead of trying to argue their case again with the MCLE Committee, organizers of the Christian ethics CLE recently appealed the Committee’s decision to the full State Bar of Texas. Piatt told the Newman Society that an appeal date has been set for January 21, 2016.
“I am aware that the St. Thomas More Society in Dallas has lost appeals before the Bar in the past on this same issue, so I am not certain that we will fare any differently,” he said. “However, I am very optimistic that we will eventually win this in the courts if necessary.”
Another CLE program is being planned for the fall of 2016 according to Piatt. “As part of that program, we plan to extend an invitation to Governor Abbott (who is Catholic, and an attorney) to address the role of faith in the practice of law. We will, of course, be submitting that accreditation request to the MCLE Committee.”